Why I wrote ‘The Oatmeal Ark’

‘The Oatmeal Ark’ is the book closest to my heart. It took four years – and in a way four generations – to research and write.

I was born in Vancouver, son of a Scots-Canadian father who died when I was a teenager. As soon as I was old enough I moved away from the country and lived abroad for more than half my life. But as an adult I realised that the anger which a child feels around the premature death of a parent had become linked to aspects of my country. I needed to examine my emotions and my past and try to understand the truth about Canada.

The result is ‘The Oatmeal Ark’, a story of parallel journeys. On one hand it recounts through the characters of my forefathers over two centuries my family’s search for a kinder, better world. On the other, it follows the travels of a Scots-Canadian of about my age and about my height, trying to rediscover the men who made him, and helped to make his country – or countries.

In reliving my father’s – as well as his father’s and grandfather’s – life, by reading the many surviving family diaries and letters and by writing the book, I came to know my father better, almost as if parts of him were still alive; the man who death took away from me at too early an age.

‘The Oatmeal Ark’ was nominated for 1999 International IMPAC Dublin Literary award and read on BBC Radio Scotland. In 2008 it is republished with a new introduction by Jan Morris.